Know Your Trailer`s Value

Getting ready to sell your trailer? Whether yours will be a “for sale by owner” transaction, a dealer trade-in, or a consignment arrangement, you should know the “deal...
Summer day: Medium group of empty horse trailers standing side by side.

Getting ready to sell your trailer? Whether yours will be a “for sale by owner” transaction, a dealer trade-in, or a consignment arrangement, you should know the “deal stoppers” that could cost you thousands of dollars in lost resale value. You also should skip repainting, a large expenditure most people think is important. Instead, spend the time on some simple fixes that can ensure you get top dollar.

The Killer
Assuming your trailer is structurally sound, obvious wear and tear ranks No. 1 as the greatest value detractor. However, regional buying habits significantly influence the definition of wear and tear. Serious wear in a steel trailer, a popular choice in the West and South, is vastly different than that in an aluminum trailer, a typical choice in the Midwest. With metal floors and minimal “rust” worries, wear for aluminum trailers really translates into appearance. With steel trailers, it’s much more a structural issue.

If a person can immediately tell the trailer’s been used, that hurts its value, one Colorado Front Range dealer told us. Forget trying to get much for a five-year-old trailer with worn tires, a dirty, dented interior and a rotten floor. Did we mention rust?

Your best bet for recouping the greatest amount of your trailer’s original price is to bring it back to new condition, which can sound daunting, especially if you’ve hauled thousands of miles. However, if you plan ahead, simple annual maintenance can cut the job down to size.

Bad Flooring
A bad floor is a definite resale problem and common in steel trailers with wood floors. However, you can replace a wood floor relatively easily, and with the availability of help from building-supply stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s, finding No. 1 grade pressure-treated lumber will be easy. Remember: Measure twice, cut once when replacing boards, which always run the length of the trailer, never the width.

Rust in steel trailers is a killer, even though some may be expected with use. With a $500 to $2,500 price tag, repainting is rarely if ever cost-justified because the investment doesn’t translate into equivalent increased resale value. This makes repainting the only repair our sources cautioned against.

Check with a body shop on the cost to pound out dents, either in sidewalls from horses kicking or in fenders from serious pawing. When evaluating the cost, keep in mind the resale value of improved appearance. Pounding out dents will affect the paint, so factor in touch-ups.

We recommend you keep up with your trailer’s paint job by addressing small dings inside and out by sanding with an appropriate paper, thoroughly removing the rust. Then, prime and touch up with paint.

An auto-supply store can advise you on the appropriate supplies for the job, and some dealers sell touch-up paint to match your trailer’s original color. One Florida dealer sends paint home with every new steel trailer. If you keep up with your touch-ups at least every six months, you’ll be able to maintain a much newer appearance and put more money in your pocket when you sell.

After you’ve done your touch-up painting, take the trailer to a car wash for a good interior and exterior bath. Finish with a thorough exterior waxing to give the paint a protective coating against the elements.

Brighten Your Aluminum Trailer
Though aluminum-trailer bodies are virtually maintenance-free, they can appear cloudy and dull over time. Truck stops and dealers can wash your trailer using a special acid wash that will remove the oxidation caused by exposure to the elements. One source we talked to uses a powdered aluminum brightener product called “Hotzy” and quoted a price of $50 to $75, depending on the trailer size and amount of oxidation. Check with area trailer dealers for local prices.

The acid-washing process appears similar to using a weed sprayer that attaches to your garden hose. But an acid wash is not a do-it-yourselfer type project. Play it safe and leave this job it to the professionals.

Determining Value
Unlike with used cars, a standardized resale-value resource for horse trailers you can take to the dealer as a bargaining chip doesn’t exist. Start by researching prices on comparable quality trailers of the same or similar age and use in classified ads. This will help you get an idea of the state of the market. Dealers typically knock off 10 to 20 percent of a trailer’s resale value in exchange for assuming the risk of the selling process.

Another resource is The Horse Trailer Blue Book ($80), published by PrimeMedia and available at, which offers original manufacturer suggested retail price (MSRP) and used retail price on major lines of trailers. It also provides charts listing costs of interior and exterior options, as well as living quarters and dressing-room options.

All the dealers we talked to were familiar with The Horse Trailer Blue Book, but they faulted its lack of valuations based on condition. Our source at the book said the prices reflect a trailer with average use and no damage. When using The Horse Trailer Blue Book, remember the listed original prices aren’t necessarily what the dealer charged for a given trailer. They’re the “sticker price.” In addition, this book only offers guidance.

Notes on Depreciation
Calculating depreciation is a subjective process at best. Though there’s no real formula, dealers and manufacturers hold annual meetings, keeping in close touch with each other about trailer prices. They generally agree that first-year depreciation is between 10 and 20 percent.

The Horse Trailer Blue Book makes its determination by categorizing trailers as premium, average or economy models, without options. Dealers, on the other hand, use the specific trailer model and its popularity. Remember that regional buying preferences will affect depreciation. For example, a straight-load trailer will bring less in the West, where the roads are wider and slant load trailers are the norm, than it will in the Northeast.

Second- and subsequent-year depreciation is estimated at between 5 and 10 percent by dealers. The Horse Trailer Blue Book doesn’t offer a value. Our Horse Trailer Blue Book source told us that they don’t see drastically different depreciation figures across the board, but there are some differences among trailer brands and models, depending on whether they’re high-end or low-end and the construction type.

At 10 years of age, The Horse Trailer Blue Book considers average trailers are worth between 55 and 76 percent of their new price paid. After 10 years, their value depends on the manufacturer and construction type. For example, a trailer’s value may actually stabilize and begin to climb, a consequence of the increasing cost of new trailers.

Bottom Line
Deal killers are a heavy evidence of wear and a bad floor. Wear is especially costly, but a bad floor can be replaced. Keep fix-ups to a minimum in preparing for resale. You can’t cover years of abuse with paint.

On setting a price, factor in depreciation first, using the guidelines in our story. Then, consider your trailer’s condition, pretending you’re going to buy it yourself. If it’s not in pristine condition, set a lesser price. And, just like with your car, you can expect to net less money for your used trailer if you trade it in instead of selling it outright.

Whether you’re buying or selling a trailer, pay close attention to the classified ads for a while before getting in the sales game. Ads that run for weeks or months on end may be for trailers that are overpriced. Those that seem to disappear within a week of their first appearance were likely well-priced used trailers.





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